Television

Home Television

Slave Hunter and Cultural Boners

Appropriately bleak looking promo for Slave Hunter (via msnbc.com)
Appropriately bleak looking promo for Slave Hunter (via msnbc.com)

In 2011, I had the privilege of speaking on a local television program, Face to Face with John Ralston in Las Vegas. At the time, I worked on a national research initiative called the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), a federally funded project. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) created CSEC in an effort to curb the alleged epidemic of sex trafficking of minors. I say “alleged epidemic” because, as most sex workers’ rights advocates know, research on sex trafficking often employs shoddy methods. Indeed, many “studies” on sex trafficking have proven to be deeply flawed or outright fabricated. The most famous example is Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner’s study, The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (same name, unrelated to the DOJ study.) When we hear that 300,000 children are sex trafficked into the US every year, for example, we should assume that statistic comes from Estes and Weiner’s study. Their research has been largely debunked by scholars of sex work (not to mention sex workers themselves) and not just because they operationalize the number of children “at risk” of commercial sexual exploitation as “users of psychotropic drugs,” among other things, in their study. They also claim that undocumented children are at higher risk for sexual exploitation, yet they fail to thoughtfully analyze the economic and social reasons why an underage, undocumented person might exchange sex for something in return.

Along with CSEC’s primary investigator, Dr. Spivak, I was asked on Face to Face to debate claims made by then-Las Vegas vice detective Chris Baughman. Indeed, CSEC proved over and over that underage people in the sex industry are in much more complicated situations than anti-trafficking movements would have us think. Baughman’s appearance was also a promotional opportunity—at the time, his new book Off The Street, a “true life story of [a man] fighting to protect a class of women who are too easily forgotten and readily dismissed,” had just hit the shelves. Despite grabbing onto the nonsensical trope that sex work is never a victimless crime, Baughman was a rather soft-spoken and open-minded man behind the scenes. I can say with the utmost sincerity that I’ve never had such a fruitful interaction with a cop. He listened intently as I recounted, off air, abuses I’d faced as a sex worker in Las Vegas—not at the hands of brutal pimps, but from the sadistic wiles of Las Vegas’ finest. I explained that my sisters and brothers were routinely giving blowjobs to cops in exchange for police protection. I told him I was in the process of filing a civil suit against Las Vegas Metro and that I’d experienced significant backlash from the head of vice because of it. He took out a business card, wrote down his personal contact information, and instructed me to call anytime. “We’re both trying to end abuses associated with the sex industry,” he said. “Let’s work together.” I agreed.

That was two years ago. Not much has changed in Las Vegas save for more punitive policies intent on eradicating the sex industry (funded by right-wing Christian non-profits that somehow manage over a million dollars in profit every year). And, oh yeah! Chris Baughman now has his own television program with Aaron Cohen called Slave Hunter. The new MSNBC series reveals, “in captivating detail,” what happens in the sex trafficking underworld. Posing as potential clients, Baughman and Cohen arrange to meet sex workers for the purposes of “[putting] in motion a plan to allow them to escape their bonds and build a new life outside of sex trafficking.”

2 Broke Girls, “And The Upstairs Neighbor”: A Wacky Misunderstanding

2 Broke Girls is, in its first season, a breakout hit for the bawdy CBS network. The traditional, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience sitcom follows the adventures of a mismatched pair of young women waitressing at a diner while they save up to launch a cupcake business. Occasionally there are jokes that use Coldplay and the Arcade Fire as punchlines, and it takes place in Williamsburg, so it’s sometimes called a hipster comedy.

It’s a show that we love to hatewatch. 2 Broke Girls has shocked us (I know!) at times with its throwback racism and heavy use of rape jokes, not to mention its willingness to toss off lines about cumshots, anal, and 85 variations on “that’s what she said.” From the very first episode, we wondered, “Why don’t they just strip?” and patiently waited for the idea of doing sex work to occur to them. Finally, the episode “The Upstairs Neighbor” addressed sex work. Sort of. Bubbles, Charlotte, and Kat gathered on Skype to watch and comment on how 2 Broke Girls handled the idea of hooking.

Support Hos: Elementary, Season One (2012)

That's the face I make when snide detectives blindside me with blackmail videos from my former career as an escort. (Screen shot from Elementary, season one, episode eight.)
That’s the face I make when snide detectives blindside me with blackmail videos from my former career as an escort. (Screen shot from “The Long Fuse,” S1E8, Elementary, CBS)

I’m a sucker for procedurals (while also being deeply ambivalent about them), so of course I was going to watch Elementary, CBS’s not-so-new-now take on Sherlock Holmes; I was immediately sold because female Watson. Played by Lucy Liu. And Jonny Lee Miller as a weird, twitchy, tattooed, recovering-addict Sherlock Holmes. I’m beyond over the BBC’s Sherlock, Howling Cabbagepatch’s shark-face, and the disappointing but predictable treatment of domanitrix Irene Adler—not really surprising considering the writers, but I digress.The formulaic nature of procedural mysteries is inexplicably soothing to me, and, however lackluster (and aren’t they the definition of “formulaic”?) they have the serious merit of being one of the only genres to consistently feature sex workers. Sure, they’re usually dead sex workers, but I don’t give up hope. The times they are a-changin’, and live lovable sex workers have carried their weight on some critically acclaimed cable dramas: Deadwood, Copper, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I have faith that network procedurals will catch up soon.

In a way, Elementary has. For a procedural that features a sex worker body count of zero, the instances of live sex workers on the show are fairly high. I was alert from first watch: while the pilot didn’t have any dead sex worker bodies, I waited for the inevitable. As episodes went on I started to relax and feel hope, and then suddenly, in E08, “The Long Fuse”: Lisa Edelstein, aka Elementary’s first Sex Worker!!! made it through an episode unharmed. She was treated with sympathy as a working-class girl whose escorting career, after paying for grad school and a successful business, was now being used as blackmail against her by a creep who had violated her privacy and filmed their call.

Did 8 Minutes Lie to Sex Workers?

via aetv.com
Kevin Brown (via aetv.com)

UPDATE

5/1/15 Kamylla’s GoFundMe was taken offline and replaced with a Tilt fundraiser, which has also now been closed down. We will update if we hear news of another fundraising effort.

5/3/15 Here’s an updated fundraiser link.

There’s been no shortage of coverage of A&E’s 8 Minutes, the ostensible reality show in which cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown makes appointments with sex workers and then has the titular amount of time to make a case for them to stop their work. Lane Champagne wrote here in December that

Of all the professions to produce potential sex work interventionists, law enforcement and clergy are at the very top of the Unsuitable list. Behind those two are literally every single other profession, because sex work interventions are vile exercises in the hatred and shaming of sex working individuals and shouldn’t exist.

Supposedly, women who want to leave sex work will be given help. From A&E’s website: “8 Minutes follows Pastor Kevin Brown and his Lives Worth Saving team as they help sex workers and victims of sex trafficking leave their dangerous situations behind to start over.” And how do they do that?

Last week, one woman, who goes by Kamylla, came forward on Twitter to hold the show’s producers accountable for promising her assistance in exchange for her appearance on the show, then leaving her twisting in the wind when she was arrested soon after, having returned to work from economic necessity when they didn’t provide the promised help in exiting the industry.

Kamylla received a call on her work number from the producers of the show, who immediately identified themselves as such (this is in contrast to the premise of the show, which implies that the women believe they are coming to a normal appointment, only to be met by Brown). She agreed to tape a segment for the show, in which she said she wanted help getting out of the business, and after the taping was told she’d soon hear back with more information and assistance.

She never heard back from them, and instead reached out herself, but no meaningful help was to come. Kamylla found herself broke and needing to work again. She posted an ad, using the same number the 8 Minutes producers had contacted her on, and was arrested in a sting. Now she was broke, frightened, and facing criminal charges, and when she reached out for help from 8 Minutes, Brown offered to pray for her.

The Playboy Club, or, What You Should Watch Tonight

We begin the show in a kind of POV thing where we go into the club and see Nick Dalton (who I assume is going to be a big deal) get his name up on the board after giving his key to the Bunny in the front door. I am already in love. He has dimples!